5 Things to Know Before Giving Something Away on Craigslist


Putting an item on Craigslist in the free section can be like throwing a large piece of bread into the air below hundreds of waiting seagulls. The fastest, most well positioned bird will get the bread. Many will be left angry, and you will get pooped on. All this after you were just trying to help someone out.

At any given moment here in Portland there are literally hundreds of people waiting for the free section page to reload so they can pounce on the next batch of free items. There is no way to tell for sure the exact amount, but through experiences and talking with those that have given items away, it’s a massive number. I’ve picked up a broken LCD TV from a guy, and by the time I got to his house 42 minutes after he had posted it, he had already received 92 emails (he counted) about the TV. He hadn’t posted his phone number, so everyone had to email him. The crazy thing is that most people know that they won’t get a free item after it’s been up for a few minutes, let alone 20-30 minutes. So he got 92 emails very quickly, for a broken LCD TV. I later sold the TV to another repair guy for $80 after I wasn’t able to fix it myself.

1. If you want to improve the odds of the item going to someone in need, consider placing the item in it’s regular category.

For an appliance that you would like to give away, place it in the appliance section. Not only that, but don’t mention it’s free in the title! Just post it like you would a normal appliance but put $1 as the price. Then mention that you are actually giving it away for free. This will give someone that might not have much money to spend a much, much better chance at landing the item. If you put an appliance in the free section, here in Portland it will be gone in 15 seconds or less from the moment it goes up on the site. The same goes for other items. Those that get the items in the free section are looking for anything of value rather than a particular item. Placing the item in it’s regular category will more likely connect you with someone simply trying to save money on an a specific item they were looking for.

2. Don’t put your phone number in your ad

If you want to experience what it’s like for your phone to get a hundred calls in a matter of minutes, give away a working electric dryer for free and post your number in the ad. Your phone will blow up and your voice mail will fill to capacity in a matter of minutes. Posting your phone number on a valuable item only brings about complete pandemonium. Maybe you’re lonely or looking to spice up your day, so give it a try! Better yet, give away a running car with a title!  For the rest of you, keep your number out of the post and people will email and you can take your time choosing who to give the item to.

3. Decide who you want to receive the item

There is no set rule. If you really don’t care who gets the item, give it to the first person to respond that can pick the item up right away. If you don’t care when they pick it up, then the first person that tells you they will come get it. Have them email their phone number and give them a call. If you really want to get rid of an item right away, email everyone back and ask when they can pick the item up. Call the one that can come right away and give them your address. If you want, you can tell them you are going to contact the next person on the list in 30 minutes, or 45 minutes or at whatever point you decide. The primary thing is that you are in control and you can give the item to whomever you want, whenever you want.

4. Be transparent about the true condition of the item

Would you want to know if the picnic table you were about to pick up was infested with termites? Or the couch had been in the home of a smoker for 10 years? Or the burners on the BBQ didn’t work? Don’t justify hiding the true condition of an item because you are giving it away for free. An item that can’t function properly very often turns into a liability instead of an asset. Let others make that decision for themselves. Post pictures of the item, and if possible include shots of  broken parts, big scratches and dents etc. A description will also serve well both you and the recipient of the item. It will also save you and the potential recipient time that is wasted when they back out after finding out it’s true condition.

5. Don’t place the item at the curb or put your address in the post

Don’t place the item at the curb!  It’s kind of standard protocol that anything placed on the curb is fair game to be picked up by anyone driving by, and often will be. So don’t give your address to someone and have them drive 20 minutes across town only to find the item gone when they get there. Also, don’t put your address in the ad and encourage a bunch of people to race to your house. It’s unkind and shows no respect for the person’s time. It’s treating people like they are some sort of contestant in a race for your benevolence.

If you really want to avoid contact with the person coming to pick the item up, place it under cover in front of your garage door or by your front door. Remove other items from the area and keep an eye out for them when they show up. People have been known to make off with items that weren’t being given away.  Better yet, tell them to call when they arrive and come out with the item and give it to them in person. You will almost always be surprised at how positive the experience of meeting another neighbor in your city will be.

Lastly, I encourage you to treat people the way you would want to be treated. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple act of kindness.

Learned any of these lessons the hard way? Did I miss anything? Add questions and stories below, I’d love to hear them!


  1. My experience in giving away things free on CL has not been so good. The flake out factor is high. Lots of effort to broker responses/questions. I find charging a nominal amount for things you want to get rid of is best.

    • I think there are extra flakes on the free section for sure, as many people are on there trying to get anything they can to make a buck, not necessarily because they need the item. I’ve had other people try to give an item away and had no takers. They then charged a small amount for it and immediately sold it. Part of that I’m guessing is that the target audience is being reached in the items category, but it’s worth a try for certain items that aren’t moving in the free section.

    • Same here – what I do is post it for $1 or $5, and then tell them it’s free. You get someone who really needs it, and will show up to take it.

    • I’m downsizing and while disposal of stuff is relatively easy, I thought it would be good karma to give it away on CL. But after three consecutive transactions that were highly labor-intensive, I’m done. Excessive emails; begging me to hold it for another day; not showing up on time at the appointed meeting place (I don’t put stuff at the curb nor do I want people at my house), or even standing me up.

      If a reputable charity can’t use it, I’m throwing stuff away from now on. No good deed goes unpunished.

  2. Great article, Ryan!!!
    Chuckling about detailing a free item’s flaws…I gave away a broken violin last fall. Rather, I tried to give it away. After detailing all its problems and taking close-up photos, I still had a man drive 45 minutes to come see it, only to then complain about the several things that were broken. I felt bad that he had wasted so much time and energy, but I did warn him both in email and on the phone about the instrument’s condition. I ended up gifting it to the person who bought the other student instrument I had listed. She said she’d probably use it for parts for her other music students. Ended up good for both of us.

    So, I’m all for listing a free item’s faults! May or may not solve the problem of frustrated “buyers”, but at least you won’t feel guilty about it!

    • Very good point! Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you put in the item description, some people still won’t read it! Thanks for sharing Rebecca

  3. One thing I’ve done with “curb alerts” is to put a lot of stuff out, and then point a webcam at it. I then make a web page for the cam, and explain what it’s looking at. People can then refer to the cam and see if the item is still there.

    Generally, my pickers come from nearby anyway (i was living in an allegedly scary neighborhood).

  4. Great article. I have a gazebo I want to get rid of (that needs to be taken apart to remove). After reading your post, I think I will put a nominal price on it and take some more detailed pictures to attract the right person. If that dosen’t work, I will post a free add and let the feeding frenzy begin!

    • I think you are wise to go about it that way. You want someone that really wants the item enough to pay for it, and values it enough to carefully remove it.

  5. Hi, is there any concern with liability when giving something away “free.” I’m totally willing to give an item away (it’s a musical instrument) but I don’t want any recourse. I can’t think of any recourse (even considering the flakes out there) but thought I’d ask.

  6. Yesterday I spent a wasted day dealing with flakes and no-shows for my free item. Read your article and sold the item today for $1 with buyer and seller pleased and unharried. Many thanks.

  7. Boy, I wish I had read this before posting my couch for free on Craigslist. I had someone say they were going to pick it up last night and just never showed up. I waited for several hours, before finally going to bed. I have spent all day today trying to field inquiries about it. I have someone who claims to be coming for it on Friday…we shall see.

  8. I so wish I had found this BEFORE I just posted 3 free items on CL in the free section. As a newbie, I put my Google voice number and that people could call or text. Within 30 seconds, texts were rolling in. I was panicked, overwhelmed and surprised (until I read this). Now I see why. A woman came to get my first item and then saw the other 2 before she pulled away as I “linked” them. So she texted right back but I got confused with all the texts as I was replying online Google Voice and thought she was someone else. I gave my address but she was right there so got all 3 items. I did tell another person they could have the two items but never got a chance to send the address. So when I texted they were gone, that person sent me nasty texts saying I wasn’t sorry at all – gasp. Thankfully they did not have the address and I blocked them. However, it made me feel bad and now I don’t think I’ll give anything away on CL again! Lesson learned!


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